The ACLU of Nevada has filed a lawsuit on behalf of two men in ICE detention in Henderson, asking for their immediate release because their health conditions put them at high risk should they contract COVID-19.
The motion for a temporary restraining order was filed in federal court in Nevada on Tuesday. It raises concerns similar to those the ACLU expressed last week about the risk of coronavirus transmission in Nevada prisons and jails.
“Because risk mitigation is the only known strategy that can protect vulnerable groups from COVID-19, public health experts with experience in immigration detention and correctional settings have recommended the release of vulnerable detainees from custody,” the motion said. “It is well within ICE’s authority to comply with these constitutional requirements by releasing people who are vulnerable to severe illness or death if they contract COVID-19.”
The plaintiffs include 45-year-old Daniel Ramirez, a Mexican citizen who has been in the U.S. for decades and who the lawsuit said was detained in late February. He has pre-diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol.
The other plaintiff is Christopher Njingu, a 51-year-old citizen of Cameroon who the lawsuit said arrived in late 2019 to seek asylum after a civil war in his home country and has been detained since. He has hypertension and high cholesterol.
Of the 23 people who have died in Southern Nevada from COVID-19, about a quarter reportedly had diabetes or hypertension.
The lawsuit cites concerns of an outbreak in a detention center to which the health care system would be unable to respond. It also notes that staff and detainees at immigration detention centers elsewhere have developed COVID-19, and that 13 detainees in Henderson were under isolation over concerns they had been exposed to the illness.
It also argues that because detainees are being held for civil immigration violations rather than for criminal offenses, they “are entitled to conditions superior to those of criminal detainees.”
ICE spokeswoman Paige Hughes did not comment on the lawsuit and the allegation that detainees were exposed to a sick agent. But she did say that "ICE is taking all necessary precaution measures to ensure all ICE detainees are screened medically at their arrival to our facilities."
"ICE makes custody determinations every day on a case-by-case basis, in accordance with U.S. law and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) policy," she said. "ICE also routinely makes custody re-determinations of those in detention, based on individual circumstances, and may release detainees onto alternatives to detention (ATD) and other monitoring programs, for a variety of reasons."